ROAD TO THE
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Were in favor of a lot of things, and were against mighty few Lyndon Johnson, 1964
I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for Howard Dean, 2005
WHAT WILL come after the welfare state? After 120 years, at the turn of the twenty-first century, it is clearly showing its age. Its great initiativesuniversal education, universal superannuation, universal health carehave become corrupt monstrosities sucking up vast resources for a modest return. Its devotees are reduced to more and more desperate stratagems to hold onto political power and to maintain the sinecures and the pensions of its functionaries and followers. The welfare state is no longer a grand new vision, but a patched up expedient, an aging dynasty that may have lost the mandate of heaven. Its strategy is all about hanging on.
Of course, back in the nineteenth century when the welfare state was conceived, nobody could have imagined how its vision would actually turn out after the glow of reform had receded and its taxes and benefits had become routine. The brains behind it all, the German Marxists and British Fabians, had seen the misery of the workers and were determined to use other peoples money to relieve their sufferings. The Marxists knew that the suffering of the workers was due to their oppression by the bourgeoisie, and the Fabians knew that it was due to the waste and inefficiency of Individualism and the higgling of the market. A grand narrative was developed to explain the welfare state in the form of a three-act play. In the golden age of the middle ages, the poor were treated with compassion and understanding, as the church led society by example to make proper provision for the poor and the indigent, formalizing its customs into the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601. But this was followed by the Fall under the influence of the classical economists and laissez-faire ideology. In the nineteenth century the poor were stigmatized as morally flawed, categorized into worthy and unworthy, and the indigent were barracked into the hell of indoor relief in union workhouses and county almshouses. But a new age dawned as the nineteenth century progressed, the new age of the professional and national welfare state run by educated and compassionate activists and informed by modern social science research.
Despite the belief that the welfare state was
established in the teeth of opposition from aristocratic reactionaries, the
truth is that it was founded in Germany by the aristocratic reactionary Otto von
Bismarck, who implemented the program of the Social Democratic opposition to
cool the ardor of their supporters and increase support for the Prussian
monarchy he served. It wasnt
very long before Britains Edward VII added his royal approval: We are all
socialists now. Thus endorsed by
progressives and reactionaries, the movement went from strength to strength in
the first half of the twentieth century. It
organized the poor into great political machines, and turned government into a
vast patronage operation to reward them for their support.
It also provided a vast and satisfying role for the governing classes: to
cook up and serve the complicated menu of benefits that the welfare state would
the 1920s an array of commentators had decided that mastering the growing
complexity of life in the city was beyond capacity of the average citizen.
Experts would construct the complex institutions and programs that the
average citizen needed but was incompetent to construct or to choose.
Even as the welfare state continues its inexorable expansion into the twenty-first century, sensitive observers have sensed a change in the wind. Electoral success for socialist parties has begun to be difficult. After winning one out of five presidential elections in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, moderate Democrats formed the Democratic Leadership Council to move the Democratic Party towards the political center and fueled the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton. After losing four straight elections in the United Kingdom, leader Tony Blair reinvented the Labour Party into New Labour as a party of the center rather than an orthodox party of the left. A mini-industry of books has arisen to deal with the evident senescence of the welfare state political movement. In The Politics of Meaning, Michael Lerner has attempted to find a new way for progressive politics to recover an identification with the spiritual and escape from its identification with material security and well being. In The Radical Center, Ted Halstead and Michael Lind attempt to find a radical middle political ground for the plurality of Americans who identify neither with the Democratic party or the Republican party but that takes ideas from both parties: from the right, ending the corporate income tax and affirmative action; and from the left, a mandatory national health insurance and equalized school funding nationwide. In The Underclass, Ken Auletta looks at the culture of the underclass and concludes that carrot and stick are needed to help the poor get off their hustles and get into the formal economy. This movement represents an attempt to define a Third Way, a compromise between the perceived orthodoxy of welfare statism on the left, and pro-business bourgeois politics on the right.
But to characterize the Third Way as a movement is misleading. Both in its incarnation in the United States under the guidance of the Democratic Leadership Council and in the United Kingdom as New Labour, the Third Way is a top-down expedient, an effort by political leaders to rescue their parties from the political wilderness: to stop losing at the polls. Both in the United States and the United Kingdom the model of left-wing progressivisma working class party led by the best and the brightestwas breaking down, losing contact with the great mass of voters that were no longer working class in outlook or as responsive to the class war politics that had proved such a potent winner in the middle years of the twentieth century. The Third Way is best understood as an attempt by savvy political leaders to head their political parties away from the precipice, to return them to power and keep them there. It is, in fact, the progressive movement in its Tory phase, a strategic retreat by a mature power hierarchy, maintaining power by brilliant strategic maneuver, but slowly yielding ground step by step to the wave of the future. It has not yet asked itself whether its strategy negates the whole socialist vision. It has certainly not conducted a dialogue with the rank-and-file progressives who remain deeply suspicious of their modernizing leaders.
In The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, economist and Nobel Prize laureate Robert William Fogel got as close as any progressive has dared to the root of the problem. A liberal iconoclast who was not afraid to write about the economic benefits to the American slave owners, he understood the perilous strategic position of the progressive forces at the end of the twentieth century. Though proud that the progressive political program had improved the material condition of the poor dramatically over the last century, he had to admit that it failed in its central promise. The progressives had claimed that the social question, the scandalous material deprivation of the huddled masses in the great industrial cities, could be solved by material improvement. The idea that the poor were drowning in vice, and needed a program of character building and embourgeoisification, was a vicious canard. What the poor lacked were material resources that had been denied them by an oppressive and uncaring political system. The poor were like the cultivators of parched fields denied water in a valley drained by a great river. A small dam, a modest network of distribution canals was surely all that stood between misery and prosperity. Why not do it, make the desert flower, and raise the poor to prosperity? With a helping hand the poor would soon rise, not just to middle class standards of living, but recover to the natural sense of community that they had lost when pitched into industrial servitude.
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Click for Chapter 2: Down in South Carolina and Out in Brooklyn
When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State
Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since
1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and
philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West
Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its
characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then,
once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm